Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Tesla factory tour and Model S test drive

The factory tour was beyond amazing.  Unfortunately, no cameras are allowed.  I will try to recount everything I remember.  A more coherent post will be up on Hooniverse.

This picture of the factory is actually on the wall of the customer waiting room lobby.


We first took a tour of the factory.  It was followed by a rep going over all of the features of the car with my friend.  We had dinner and my friend then let me drive his new car approximately 20 miles on the freeway.

Here is what I remember from the tour:

  • The rolls of aluminum are from Alcoa's factory in Iowa.  The largest roll we saw, which was not really that big at all, cost $30,000.
  • A huge hydraulic press stamped out the aluminum body parts.  It is four stories high above ground and three stories below ground.  It is the largest in North America and the 6th largest in the world.  We saw it stamping the hatchback lid.  A mechanical press's closing speed would be too high and would break the piece in two.  With the slower but more powerful hydraulic press, difficult shapes can be made.
  • The NUMMI factory where Tesla is located is 3/4 of a mile long.  It can fit the entire Le Mans racetrack.  Only 25% of the space is used.  There is a small test track for NVH testing indoors.  It is the only indoor test track because the cars are zero emissions.
  • The basement has tunnels large enough for semi trucks to come in and to pick up the discarded aluminum pieces.  Those pieces are recycled.
  • Many of the workers are Filipino-Americans.  The workers are not unionized.
  • Many workers moved around the factory via bicycles and one used a skateboard.
  • Currently, 40 cars are assembled a day.  In 2010, just before NUMMI closed, GM/Toyota built 6,000 cars a week there.
  • The plant has its own water treatment plant and electrical grid.
  • The plant was worth $1 billion.  It was sold to Tesla for $42 million.
  • The robots can take off their arms/tools by themselves and attach other arms/tools by themselves.
  • The battery is thin and flat and serves as the undercarriage of the car, giving it extra rigidity.
  • The final inspection is done on a bamboo floor.  It provides contrast so that imperfections to the body can be more easily detected.
  • Some of the parts are sourced from Mercedes and Toyota.
  • RHD models will be available soon.
Here is my friend's car.  The only fluid that needs to be added to this car is the windshield wiper fluid.


I did not like the doors.  The handle has to pop out before you can grab it and open the door.


This is the dash in front of the steering wheel.  The electronics are comprehensive but not overwhelming.  The interior appointments were a bit spartan but comfortable.  This car has the 85 kW-h motor good for 360 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque.  It's fairly roomy inside and comparable to a larger mid-sized car.  Out the door, with tax, it ended up a bit over $90,000.  But my friend anticipates over $15,000 in tax credits from the feds, the state, and his county.






The car is barely 5 minutes old and it has unsightly finger smudges on its door handles already.

Night mode.

Day mode.

There is no spare tire.  19" tires are on all four corners.

We had a hard time disconnecting the plug on several occasions.  It probably takes a little finesse and practice.






My Phaeton is on the right for size comparison's sake.  I drove the Model S on the freeway for approximately 20 miles.  The acceleration is effortless and the lack of sound is disconcerting.  The 85 kW-h motor is good for a 5.3 second 0 to 60 time.  I set the steering wheel to sport mode so there was plenty of resistance.  The car has an air suspension.  I didn't really get to test the handling other than using on- and off-ramps.  It handles competently for a car of its size (4,600 pounds).  It really reminded me of the new 5-Series.

Here is the Tesla's key.

I drove home in my gas guzzler.  20.4 mpg was actually quite admirable.  During my commute to work, I'd be lucky if I got 14 mpg.

The factory tour was an amazing experience and the Model S is a great American car!

12 comments:

midelectric said...

I would have loved to be on that factory tour! How much do they pay line workers? If we ever get down to a single car I'd love a Model S though I'm very thankful I was able to pick up a Leaf last week.

Alan said...

What an experience!

Great read, I look forward to the Hooniverse post.

Maxichamp said...

@midelectric: You would have loved it. Dozens of large flat batteries stacked on top of each other. A small gym-full of motors. There were so many places where I wished I could have used my camera to share.

Maxichamp said...

A couple more things I forgot to mention.

1. Replacement batteries for the Model S will cost $12-16k.
2. The roadster is four years old now and as of last month, not a single one has needed a replacement battery.

mtc said...

Did his car come with the rear-facing jump seats? Not sure if that's standard equipment or not.

I always wondered how Tesla intended to fit two small children back there.

Maxichamp said...

@mtc: I totally forgot about the 7 seater thing. The car did not come with jumpseats. There is room back there, but the kids have to be toddlers.

steve-vh said...

Interesting profile of Elon Musk in Smithsonian Mag this month. Just read it this morning!!

Richard Chen said...

When I tagged along on the tour/delivery, I found it remarkable that the seats were being assembled / upholstered in-house. Turns out, they have so much space that they've gotten the vendor to premise themselves on-site. I'm just happy at least one car plant in the area survived the conversion into a shopping mall.

The rear-facing jumpseats were "to be delivered later" due bill item as of 2 weeks ago. Supposed to hold up to a 10-yr old I think, comparable to child booster seats.

Very pretty car and seemingly well assembled. How did the the actual/perceived width feel compared to the Phaeton?

F1Outsider said...

$90k less tax credits, fuel savings and lack of maintenance... I wonder what the TCO would actually be. I'm sure it's competitive with a $50k car when it's all said and done.

Maxichamp said...

@rchen: Some of the seats I saw were headed for Canada. Why? Bilingual? Different safety regs?

There was a not insignificant amount of wind noise at 80. My friend was really scared of its size when he drove out of the showroom floor and out the narrow garage door. His other cars are a Scion xB and a Tesla Roadster. The Model S felt big, but still felt more compact than the Phaeton. Driving the Phaeton right after the Model S was a very interesting contrast.

Maxichamp said...

@F1O: Per my friend, you have to pay $600/year for maintenance. Your warranty is voided if you don't do this maintenance. The only extra costs are tires and electricity (assume 5 cents per mile).

The wild card is the battery.

His county gives $3,000 cash for electric cars (paid over three years). I think he said he gets another $15,000 from the feds and the state.

Ripituc said...

I think you had a change to witness the making of a history-changing car.

I can't wait to see if Tesla can sustain itself on the future if ever the Government stops throwing money on loans and incentives.

I love to see that an electric car can be made so pretty, and so perfectly car-like. But at that price it still makes no economic sense to purchase one.